[Mr David Crausby in the Chair] — Green Belt (England)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:41 am on 18th October 2011.

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Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing) 10:41 am, 18th October 2011

Given the time available, no.

The NPPF also removes Labour’s brownfield-first policy. Under the Labour Government, the green belt expanded by 34,640 hectares. This Government have repeatedly said that policies to protect the green belt and nationally designated landscapes will be retained in the NPPF, but the framework, which replaces all planning guidance, does not give sufficient confidence to people who want our countryside to be protected and risks antagonising local communities rather than engaging them. Inevitably, there will be greater opposition, more appeals and a less effective planning system.

We badly need more development—well-designed and in the right place—not least because we have a growing housing crisis. The Government, however, have responded to legitimate concerns expressed by broad-based non-political organisations such as the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England by calling them “left-wing” and “semi-hysterical,” and by saying that the organisations are guilty of “nihilistic selfishness”. In the current climate, we have the worst of all worlds: collapsing house building, chaos in the planning system and a chorus of voices whose concerns have not yet been properly heard.

How do we salvage some sense from this mess, and protect our green belt? First, we need a recognised definition of sustainable development. The Government should continue to support the widely-subscribed-to 2005 definition. Secondly, and crucially, we need a restoration of the successful brownfield-first policy, which was initiated under a Conservative Government and developed under a Labour one, with 76% of development on brownfield sites. There is currently enough brownfield land available to build 1.2 million homes. Thirdly, we need protection for our town centres. Neil Parish referred to the repopulation of our town centres, including people living above shops, and I strongly agree with his view. Fourthly, there should be a commitment to affordable housing, not the trading-off of such housing for reasons of viability and, fifthly, we need transitional arrangements that protect local communities against what will sometimes be predatory proposals by developers—a point that Annette Brooke was absolutely right to raise earlier. Finally, we hope that the Government will put the NPPF to a vote in both Houses of Parliament.

Specific concerns have been raised about the NPPF and the green belt. Some people believe that the draft framework does not maintain the existing green belt protections and that it should be improved and strengthened.